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Doing the Math on the Issue of Our Lives

November 30, 2012

Sisters Nancy A. and Mary P. with Bill McKibben

By Sister Mary P.

I just got off a conference call with, and I am reading my notes: 1. Strengthen work against fracking, coal mining, weakening of the Clean Air Act, tar sands oil, XL Pipeline; keep fossil fuels in the ground. 2. Support a renewable energy future, recast climate as a moral issue, be prepared for non-violent civil disobedience; follow Bill McKibben.

Bill is the leading climate activist in the world.  He has been serious for a long time, but his recent statement alarmed even me. “To prevent the end of the world as we know it will require no less than the death of the most profitable industry in the history of humankind.” An industry with profits of over $137 billion, with the political power to match –and a subsidy over five times the subsidy for renewable energy.

He’s calling for immediate global divestment from fossil fuel companies just like the divestment in South Africa over apartheid.  We need to stop profiting from fossil fuels, reduce our consumption and reduce our emissions. He suggests mass rallies on the Keystone pipeline and on the clear message, “Ban Fracking!”  The math alone, which Bill wrote about earlier this year, should shock us into action.

Several years ago, James Hansen, the leading climatologist at NASA, gave us an acceptable number for carbon in the atmosphere: the now famous 350 parts per million. Today we are at 390.9 ppm of carbon, 1,813 parts per billion of methane, (who talks about methane?) and 324.2 ppb nitrous oxide. These are sobering numbers. Global temperature has already risen by 1 degree C.  We have a very limited window of keeping it below the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of warming that scientists warn about, and we’re on a trajectory to hit “dangerous” in 2017.  I think we’re witnessing dangerous already.  So maybe 2 degrees of warming is not the right number?

We are already seeing devastating weather patterns that many scientists link to global warming: droughts, floods, storms and fires. And yet clearly we are not even slightly serious as a nation about cutting our total greenhouse gas emissions.  Who is asking you to eat little or no meat? To stop flying?  To live more simply?  To stop shopping? To grow food?  To sacrifice? To educate yourself on resilience before a predicted collapse? We act as if we can just clean up the latest disaster and go on with our lives as usual.

In 2011, there were 14 weather disasters whose damages totaled a billion dollars or more.  Sandy could cost the U.S. $50 billion. These kinds of storms affect all kinds of people with all kinds of incomes, but two weeks after Sandy, 14,000 people in public housing had no heat, hot water or electricity. EBT terminals were down so that SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) couldn’t be accessed. Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic were devastated as well, and they had less at the start! Now, we know that fully one third of Haiti’s food production was affected by Sandy.  Do we have any idea what that means for an already impoverished people?

Jeremy Grantham, famed investor from GMO, a Boston-based asset management firm, reports that we are five years into a severe global food crisis that threatens poor countries with increased malnutrition, starvation and even collapse.  He calls this “the crisis of our lives—and of our species’ existence.”  World Bank President Jim Yong Kim sums up the recent report, “Turn Down the Heat,” with these four dire consequences: extreme heat waves, declining global food stores, loss of eco systems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea rise. (Of course, poor people and poor nations are at the greatest risk posed by rising greenhouse gas levels and the changing climate, as Oxfam first demonstrated years ago.)

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 18) started November 26 in Doha. In light of past failures, the world needs concrete plans to reduce emissions (clearly the US and China need to be big players) and to mitigate the causes and the effects of climate change especially in developing nations. There is no more time for delay. This week there were calls from the UN, WWF, the World Bank, and other major assessment groups urging us to develop aggressive programs to reduce the drivers of global warming. The solutions are in our grasp: energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, smarter transport systems, forest protections and sustainable agriculture. It is beginning to sink in that the cost of these programs, while expensive, do not come close to the cost of business as usual.

What’s next in a post Sandy world?

  1. Strengthen work against fracking, coal mining, weakening of the Clean Air Act, tar sands oil, XL Pipeline; keep fossil fuels in the ground.
  2. Support a renewable energy future, recast climate as a moral issue, be prepared for non-violent civil disobedience; follow Bill McKibben.

I’ll add: Write to Barack Obama. If we can learn something from his reelection it is that the sheer scale of the operation did it!  We the people are bigger than big money.

Did you ever want to be doing the most important thing you could be doing? Join Bill McKibben.

One Comment leave one →
  1. naudette2012 permalink
    December 1, 2012 7:09 pm

    Great article. Climate is indeed the issue of our life. If we do nothing to halt the destruction, our species may well be among those to become extinct. What are we waiting for?

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